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Researching Statutes

Guide to researching federal and statute statutes


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The Legislative Process

Statutes are the written laws passed by a legislature, such as the U.S. Congress or the Illinois General Assembly.   When a law is passed by a legislature and signed by the executive (i.e., the President of the  United States or the governor of a state) it is known as a Public Law at the federal level or a Public Act in Illinois.   

Public Laws or Acts are then compiled and integrated with the other laws of that jurisdiction into sets of laws arranged by subject, most often called codes. The compiled set of laws passed by the U.S. Congress is called the United States Code and the full body of laws passed by the Illinois General Assembly is collected in the Illinois Compiled Statutes.

For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was initially passed as Pub. L. 111-148.  The Act was then compiled into the U.S. Code, with most sections of the Act being added to Title 42 of the U.S. Code relating to The Public Health And Welfare and some sections being added to Title 26 on the Internal Revenue Code.   The Popular Name Table is a tool that describes where a Public Law is codified in the U.S. Code. 

Where to Find Statutory Codes

For current, annotated federal and state statutory codes, use Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance.  Recall that annotated codes include not only the statutory text, but also citing references and Notes of Decisions (Westlaw Edge) or Case Notes (Lexis Advance).

The full-text of the U.S. Code (unannotated) is also available on:

State statutory codes (unannotated) are also available on the websites of state legislatures, accessible via a Google search.

Strategies to Find Relevant Sections of Statute

  1. Secondary Sources.  Find a reference to the relevant title, chapter or specific section of a statute in a secondary source. Wikipedia often has good summaries of federal statutes and a Google search can lead to agency websites with the text of the code and/or a summary of the law.
  1. Popular Name Table.  Many statutes are referred to by their popular name, also known as the short title. Use the Popular Name Table on Westlaw Edge, Lexis Advance, Cornell's Legal Information Institute ( or the U.S. House of Representatives – Office of the Law Revision Counsel website ( to look up acts by popular name.  This tool is also useful for finding cross references between public law/popular name section numbers and U.S. Code section numbers (e.g., CERCLA section 113 is located at 42 U.S.C. § 9613).
  1. Keyword search.  Think broadly when brainstorming search terms. When reviewing search results, focus on what title or chapter the results come from, then browse nearby sections using the table of contents.  Using the advanced search feature on both Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance, it is possible to search just the text of the code, not the annotations.
  1. Table of Contents.  Statutes have a natural subject arrangement, so browse the table of contents to find related sections of the code.  Consider browsing to a title or chapter, then performing a keyword search.  This will help eliminate extraneous results.
  1. Subject Index.  Available on Westlaw Edge, this tool is useful when searching for common terms (e.g., corporations) or when keyword searches return too many or too few results.

No matter what strategy you use to find a section, use the table of contents to browse nearby sections

Uniform Laws

Created by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC).  See for both the text of acts and enactment status in specific jurisdictions.

Uniform Laws Annotated is available on Westlaw Edge.  It contains the text of uniform laws, annotations, and information about adoption by states, including citations to state codes.